Play a game and learn the piano at the same time. (April 11th, 2008)
Product Manufacturer: Music Wizard Group
Price: $49.95 - $199.95 US
- Easy to use. Fun for the whole family. Includes a wide selection of music. Reasonable price structure.
- MIDI files sound tinny. Prefer a slimmer keyboard. Interface is not Mac-like.
Piano Wizard-Part Two - As previously noted in Part One, Piano Wizard is a complex product that probably took years to develop. There are so many options in each learning level inside of Piano Wizard, it's a hard product to review without spending many hours using the program. I've used the program for a couple of months, but have yet to progress to the second level. Learning to play the piano is very hard for me. I had three years of lessons as a kid, and hated every minute of it. Piano Wizard is significantly more fun than sitting next to my drill sergeant of a teacher, who was plastered in too much makeup and perfume. She constantly made frustrated faces over my inability to move my fingers lithely over the keyboard. I don't think she would approve of the little progress I've made with Piano Wizard either. I can hit the right notes, but as soon as I put the keyboard vertically in level 2, my fingers get confused.
The Test of TimeAs with any learning tool, the trick is time. The more time you spend playing the game, the better you play and the more you learn. The difference between traditional lessons and Piano Wizard is that the video game reduces boredom and you subtly learn everything you need to know, instead of trying to memorize note placement, music staffs, timing, and the keyboard at the same time. Once you achieve an 80% or higher score in the presented songs, you can progress through to the next level or keep playing until your scores are perfect; it is your choice.
The MusicIf you don't like the included music, you can add your own MIDI files and Piano Wizard plays them with the same annotated notes. Be warned, the MIDI files you download free from the Internet will be significantly more complex than the songs they give you, plus they often show guitar chords, not one-by-one notes. I could not keep up with most of the rock tunes I tried. The one feature of Piano Wizard that irritated me is the quality of the included MIDI files. I don't see why in this day of great compressed music they need to use those old-style tinny sounding recordings.
There is also a Free Play mode, in which you can choose from hundreds of instruments sounds, including drum, harmonica, woodwinds, various kinds of guitars and pianos, plus some you may never have heard before. In this mode, you use your keyboard to play whatever you want and are not restricted to their song choices. I was limited to Chopsticks, but it was fun listening to the different instruments nonetheless.
Purchase OptionsYou can purchase your own USB keyboard or purchase a keyboard and software bundle from the site. The unit I received uses an M-Audio Keystation 49e USB Midi Controller with normal-sized keys. This bus-powered entry-level 49-key piano keyboard includes pitch blend and modulation wheels, sound level control. The Piano Wizard PREMIER Keystation 49e Package sells for $199.95, while the bundle with only the easy mode software and the Keystation 49e is $149.95. If you only want the software, the site sells the whole version for $119.95 or the easy mode only for $49.95. When you consider that the M-Audio keyboard normally sells for about $130, the bundle is a good deal. At Macworld Every tenth person at Macworld seemed to be carrying the bundle away from the West Moscone Hall.
I am not happy with the Keystation 49e though. It felt big and clunky, plus sat too high on my computer desk, which made my hands tire quickly. Make sure you have a slightly lower desk to put the keyboard on to avoid that problem.
I can play most songs in the first level with my right hand perfectly, but my left hand doesn't respond as well. I don't feel like I've learned anything yet. I plan to continue to work with the program as the year progresses, and hope to report my results later. Just remember, there's a world of practice between pressing individual notes and actually playing a song with sheet music.
Piano Wizard Review Part One covers the software in depth.